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French presidential election, 1965

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The 1965 French presidential election, held on 5 December and 19 December, was the first direct presidential election in the Fifth Republic and the first since the Second Republic in 1848. It had been widely expected that incumbent president Charles de Gaulle would be re-elected, but the election was notable for the unexpectedly strong performance of his left-wing challenger François Mitterrand.


This was the second presidential election since the beginning of the Fifth Republic. Under the first draft of the 1958 constitution, the president was elected by an electoral college, in order to appease concerns about de Gaulle's allegedly authoritarian or bonapartist tendencies. There had been a historical reluctance in France to have a directly elected president because Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (the winner of the 1848 presidential election) had seized power in a coup d'état before the end of his term. However, a direct presidential election had always been essential to de Gaulle's political vision and he had it adopted by referendum in 1962.


% of vote for Charles de Gaulle, first round
When the electoral campaign started, the majority of political commentators believed that de Gaulle would succeed in winning reelection in a single round. Many of the leaders of the opposition parties were therefore reluctant to challenge de Gaulle. Furthermore, some potential candidates such as former Prime Minister Pierre Mendès-France declined to run due to their opposition to direct presidential elections. Because he was not expecting a significant challenger, de Gaulle announced his candidacy only one month before the first round of voting and did not lead a very active campaign.

The centre-left paper L'Express campaigned for the nomination of a candidate of the non-Communist opposition. One potential challenger identified was Gaston Defferre, Mayor of Marseille and an internal opponent of the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO, socialist party) leader Guy Mollet. In his municipality, Defferre led a coalition composed of the SFIO, the Radical Party, and the centre-right Popular Republican Movement (MRP). Nevertheless, the leaders of these parties refused to support his candidacy.

The failure of Defferre's candidacy led to other politicians entering the race. The MRP leader Jean Lecanuet was nominated by his party and the National Centre of Independents and Peasants (CNIP) to represent the centre. He ran a liberal and pro-European campaign, influenced by John Kennedy, and criticizing the "archaism" and the "nationalism" of de Gaulle in a bid to rally younger and more moderate conservatives.

François Mitterrand, a former Fourth Republic minister who did not belong to any party, offered to run as the sole candidate of the left. Mitterrand had been an opponent to de Gaulle since 1958 (like the Communists but contrary to the SFIO leadership) and had written the book The Permanent Coup d'État, strongly criticising de Gaulle's policies. He obtained the support from several left-wing parties, including the French Communist Party (PCF), which wished to get out of its isolation.


Despite running a somewhat lacklustre campaign, de Gaulle won the first round by over three million votes. However, he came up short of a majority, forcing a runoff being held two weeks later, pitting him against Mitterrand. De Gaulle defeated Mitterrand by a decisive margin in the runoff. However, Mitterrand performed better than expected, one of the first warnings that de Gaulle's popularity was in decline. De Gaulle retained his Prime Minister Georges Pompidou but decided to carry out a cabinet reshuffle. He dismissed his Economy Minister Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, damaging the relations in the majority coalition with Giscard's party, the Independent Republicans, the last allies of the Gaullists.

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This page is a soft redirect.+ e • d Summary of the 5 and 19 December 1965 French presidential election result
Candidates Parties 1st round 2nd round
Votes  % Votes  %
Charles de Gaulle Union for the New Republic (Union pour la nouvelle République) UDR 10,828,521 44.65% 13,083,699 55.20%
François Mitterrand Convention of Republican Institutions (Convention des institutions républicaines) CIR 7,694,005 31.72% 10,619,735 44.80%
Jean Lecanuet Popular Republican Movement (Mouvement républicain populaire) MRP 3,777,120 15.57%
Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour Independent far right (Sans étiquette, extrême droite) 1,260,208 5.20%
Pierre Marcilhacy European Liberal Party (Parti libéral européen) PLE 415,017 1.71%
Marcel Barbu Independent left-wing (Sans étiquette, gauche) 279,685 1.15%
Total 24,254,556 100% 23,703,434 100%
Valid votes 24,254,556 98.99% 23,703,434 97.26%
Spoilt and null votes 248,360 1.01% 668,213 2.74%
Turnout 24,502,916 84.75% 24,371,647 84.32%
Abstentions 4,407,665 15.25% 4,531,057 15.68%
Registered voters 28,910,581 28,902,704
Table of results ordered by number of votes received in first round. Official results by Constitutional Council of France.

Source: List of candidates · First round result · Second round result

Tixier-Vignancour supported Mitterrand in the second round, Lecanuet called on his voters not to vote for de Gaulle